Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Questions to start the year

As the school year starts again, I am restarting my blog and sharing it at TwoWritingTeachers on Tuesdays. I look forward to sharing with others and reading what they have to share. Cheers and good luck this school year!

Student Questions at the start of the year!

Each summer, I ask the students in my class to write me a letter before the school year begins, so I can get to know them better. I asked them to ask me a question that they were wondering about. My class has twenty-three students, ages almost eleven to almost fourteen. Below are the answers to their questions, although I did not always include the questions and leave that up to you, the reader, to imagine. You may notice that there are not twenty-three answers since not all of them included a question in their letter to me.

1. Once on an overnight trip with my class we were staying in cabins with three sets of bunk beds. My cabin had five other students to start the night and only four when I woke up. Two students, staying an another cabin, had snuck in and "stolen" the missing student in the middle of the night to prove that they could do it without waking me up. They even had a picture to prove it (taken by my assistant at the time who helped them). I had to laugh at it and they were so proud of their "ninja skills."

2. She is obviously an incredible performer and has a great voice. I'm impressed with how she crosses over from country music to pop and respect her like I would respect anyone who is at the top of their field. I believe she gets back at old boyfriends by writing songs about them but that might be another singer I've heard about. I could not name one of her songs but I'm sure I could sing along to them if they were playing at the time. So…I'm not a big fan in terms of just loving her music, but I think she's a great singer performer.

3. I would chose to be Dean Moriarty from On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  He is bold, brash, passionate, adventurous, and drinks deeply from each moment in ways that I don't allow myself to in my own responsible life. I'm not willing to give up what I have to live that way, but the idea of grabbing life by the horns in each moment is inspirational to me.

4. I think the best high school for you would be either Kent, East or Regis. It will come down to which school feels most respectful to you as a student and the soccer coach you want to play for.

5. Blue

6. As you know, I climb 14ers here in Colorado, and I have been climbing them since I was five. Until I was in my late teens, I often got very altitude sick and I had some miserable moments on climbs trying to get to the top of a peak with my dad and little brother. I always enjoyed the views, the accomplishment of getting to the top and the joy of being outside, but on some days it was hard to keep going. While an argument could be made that my dad pushed too far on occasion, he always did it with encouragement and help, never with anger. And I learned that I can climb the peaks in my life if I just keep going. That inner knowledge has given me strength whether I'm actually doing a physical activity or dealing with a really tough patch in my personal life. I can ask for help, rely on others and take breaks along the way. Now that I have experience with making it to tough goals, I can help sympathize better with others struggling towards their personal peaks and often help them in their quests. I also learned when to turn back and try again another day. One last thing I learned was that sometimes, it gets easier when you grow up because while I do get some minor discomfort climbing peaks these days, it is nothing like what I used to go through.

7. I am going to always ask you if what you turned in is your best work. I will help you plan your time and I will tell you when you are just getting work done instead of aiming for the sky. I will listen to you when you have ideas and work with you to create projects you are excited about and ones that challenge you to try new things. Lastly, after making sure you have what you need, I'll give you time and space to find your own way and only give you help or suggestions when you ask for it. And actually lastly, I will be excited about your work and love you for who you are.

8. Dark chocolate without question. And this summer I drove to Washington D.C. with my family, caught some fish, played disc golf, climbed a few 14ers, and worked in the classroom.

9.  I prefer to dip them in milk and then eat them. Occasionally I will twist them open and eat the cookie top in milk and then the frosting/bottom part by itself. Or, I use them as a spoon for ice cream. I have climbed 29/54 14ers in Colorado. That would be too many to name but it includes most of them along the front range, many in the San Juans and the Sawatch, and a few in the Sangre de Cristos and Elks. My favorite so far is Sunlight.

10. I have so many embarrassing stories I can't even choose the worst one. Once, when I was in another town for a wedding, I got onto a hotel elevator with several other people who were all dressed up. Trying to be friendly, I said, "Are you all here for a wedding too?" "No, a funeral," was the reply as the elevator doors closed.  During the awkward silence I pushed the button for the third floor and said, "I'm sorry for your loss," as I exited.

11. The Colorado Rockies…even this year.

12. The classiest sport I do is probably fly fishing.

13. My moms are teachers and my dad is a snowboard/ski instructor. Some of my jobs during breaks during college included being a kids ski school instructor and a fly fishing guide. Early in my adult life I experienced teaching in different ways and enjoyed it. I do love kids, but mostly I love helping and coaching people learn new things and watching them light up as they discover new information, questions and talents. It is a job about connecting with people, not just passing along information.

14. We are going to camp in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah for four nights and then stay in Glenwood Springs the last night on the way home. It will be a great trip to start our school year!

15. I have climbed 29/54 14ers in Colorado. That would be too many to name but it includes most of them along the front range, many in the San Juans and the Sawatch, and a few in the Sangre de Cristos and Elks. My favorite so far is Sunlight.

16. Because Kam thought of it and we started coming up with so many ideas and connections that Limits seemed like a great class unit.

17. The biggest difference will be the freedom you have and the responsibilities that come with it. The responsibilities include a higher quality and larger amount of work, being a great role model for the younger students in the school, being more independent, advocating for yourself, and taking charge of your own education. The freedoms will include more places you can go in school, more independence on trips, choosing

18. She does get mad but since she's from Minnesota, it only comes across as annoyed. Actually, she has wonderful control of her emotions but she does get frustrated. I have not seen her be crazy wild mad though and I think that's a good thing.

19. This will be my seventeenth year teaching. I taught nine years of high school science and am entering my eighth year as a teacher here. Other teaching experience included being a ski instructor for parts of three winters at Keystone Ski School and a fly fishing guide for three summers.

Those are the answers to the questions on my student's minds as we enter this next school year.

I wonder what unexpected magic will come our way?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Spoken Word Poem - "IT Stops With Me" - May 30, 2014

The last language arts assignment with my class was a spoken word poem. We had a great day sharing our poems Friday. We got coffee, sat outside in a park and performed them. I was so impressed by my students. I also performed my poem for them. I wrote it Thursday night and have uploaded it to youtube (see below).

IT Stops With Me - By Max Maclay

I read the news today
Oh Boy
Another school shooter, more kids dead
Another nut with guns and hate in his head.
I cry for the kids, their parents and for me
I cry for the nut
who could not
would not
just be happy.

Why? I want to know. How could a man, devise this plan, take guns in his hand, take an evil stand and

I want to blame the guns!
Somehow that’s not PC?
Because our Constitution says we all need a little revolution
To avoid a final solution, of governmental pollution
We create our own absolution!
From sea to shining sea.

But that gunsight I look down, might show you
Pointing your scope back at me.

I want to blame his parents
Did they love him as much as mine lived me?
Did they tuck him in tight, patch him up after a fight
Give monsters a fright, use a night light,
They can’t have done it Right!
Because this boy’s a blight
And I’m frightened,
Even though I never met him
And he’s dead too.

Will it happen again?


Can IT be stopped?

What is IT?


The pain of being helpless
The sorrow of betrayal
The mood after being hit

IT is that feeling.
That dark, empty feeling,
IT hurts so bad anything can fill the void.
And it feels so good to pass it along, to share the pain, make others feel it too.

IT passes from person to person,
Gaining strength, and power and rage
Until it rests on a trigger

IT must be stopped.

A car speeds down the road,
A hulk of metal and rubber and power
There are kids crossing the street to school
And a crossing guard.
The car stops.
It’s power and energy and road rage

I will be a trigger guard
Life will hurt.
Others will throw their hurt towards me
And I will NOT PASS IT ON!

Fear, anxiety and hate
Stop at the trigger guard.
The bad mood, ugly energy, evil mojo
Stopped by the trigger guard.

I will pass on a stupid pun,
A compliment
A fist bump
A smile, A Hug
Joy, Hope, Love

IT stops with me

What if you also said,
IT stops with me?
What if you also said,
IT stops with me?
What if she said it, and he said it, and they said it?
IT stops with me
Then maybe,
Just maybe,

And something else will BEGIN.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Slices of my Life with Grandpa Burt!

My Grandfather Burt passed away early Tuesday morning at the age of ninety-three. He and my grandmother celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this past November. We had a small family memorial service today and below are the slices of his life that I shared that resonate within me.

At ages ten and twelve, Ben and I thought we knew all we needed to know about fireworks, at least the little ones mom allowed Patti to buy for us. Armed with some bottle rockets, a couple of strings of Black Cats and other small pyrotechnics, we set off into the empty lot across the alley from Mom’s house with Grandpa as “Chaperone.” After helping us light a few, he produced an envelope.

“Put the string of Black Cats inside and thread the fuse out of this hole,” he said as he tore a small hole in one edge of the envelope. We did and loved how the paper seemed to disintegrate before our eyes before it caught on fire and we has to stamp it out.

Then he held out a light plastic bowl. “Put one under it with the fuse sticking out.” We followed his directions and upon detonation, the bowl was blown skyward almost fifteen feet into the air! Small piles of dirt, a soda can, and anything else we could experiment with met the same fate that afternoon. The twinkle in Grandpa’s eyes showed how much he enjoyed it too.

The lonesome train whistle blew as we stepped out of Rube’s Steakhouse into the twilight of rural Iowa. It was like a siren call for Grandpa and he was off like a shot, racing to the railroad tracks across the dusty parking lot. He loved trains! The cars whistled by him, as he stood closer than I dared to in my college-age bravado. As the last car sped past and his hair settled along with the particles picked up by the train’s passing, Grandpa’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

My Grandpa Burt, 93 years young, and my daughter, 3 years old.
Down the hall, legs swinging, hands clasped on the bar in front of her, Clara rides like a queen on Grandpa’s walker. He makes little “whoo” noises as he guides her towards the dining room, occasionally making slight swerves that elicit giggles and directions to change course or “Go straight Grandpa Burt!” Even though they are separated by ninety years, during their grand entrance, everyone see that their eyes twinkle with shared delight and have the same sparkle.

These stories are just a few memories I have of grandpa but they also contain some important lessons for me as a teacher and as a man. Being a chaperone doesn’t always mean it has to be less fun for those you watch. Always run towards your passions. Don’t be afraid to make a grand entrance when it brings light and joy to others!

Black Cat photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/calsidyrose/6209331429/">Calsidyrose</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>

Locomotive photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeff_sch/9738497396/">Jeff S. PhotoArt</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

Monday, April 14, 2014

Slice of Life - Where I'm From

Join me and others writers who post weekly Slices of Life, each Tuesday, throughout the year at the Two Writing Teachers website.  Today's slice is an assignment I gave my poetry group in my class. It is inspired by the poem Where I'm From by George Ella Lyon. See his poem and website at http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html. I'm excited to hear the Where I'm From poems written by my students and a little scared to share mine.

Where I'm From 
by Max Maclay

I am from the mountains,
Tall, green and piney,
Whispering in the wind,
Bright in the moonlight
And dark as space.
From orange lichen-covered rocks
Scraping my knees, and thighs.
Bloody red sacrifices to stand King.

I am from the city,
Silver spires shooting high,
Crowded, noisy, smelly,
Bike paths, music, broken glass
And Red lights.
Green lights too.

I am from brown and dusty cornfields,
Pick-up trucks, apple pie, cowboys hats,
Predicting the rain,
And Friday Night Lights.
I did not belong there,
But now I am from there,
And it lives in me.

I am from my parents' love.
Showing me courage, 
How to grow,  
To do Right, even when it's hard.
How to do it wrong
And keep moving on.

I am from divorced parents,
Three step-moms,
Only one "evil"
(and she saved my life.)
Bonus parents, bonus moms, bonus presents, 
Bonus love.

I am from blueberry buttermilk pancakes on Sunday,
Gingerbread Men, Christmas cookies, 
And stale candy snitched from the gingerbread house.
I am from grilled meat, baseball on TV, 7UP in the hammock
And inappropriate use of pepperoni before a trip.

I am from a classroom and a school
Games, puzzles and wordplay,
Puns, jokes and cake on the first Tuesday of the month.
A recipe shared, 
Again and again and again.

I am from the doctor's office,
Sadly supportive, finding the bright side, optimistic.
Trying for six years,

I am from another damn baby shower,
Another damn pink baby announcement,
Another damn fake smile,
Another batch of misplaced and uncontrollable resentment.

I am from the delivery room
Praising modern science
Responsible for more than I ever imagined.
I am one-for-three

I am from the deeds undone,
Letters unwritten, 
Hugs missed,
Apologies unsung.

I am from altitude's thin air, 
Snatching my breath before I'm done,
So high, the earth curves away,
The colors impossible.

I am from the mountains.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

April is National Poetry Month - "Wait Five Minutes"

April is National Poetry Month. After successfully completing the March Slice of Life Challenge, I am going to try and write and post poetry often this month. I will have to figure out where to link up to share beyond Facebook, but I figure it's more about the writing than the page views at this point.  Here is my first April Poem, inspired after two days of playing in Summit County, Colorado with my family.

Wait Five Minutes  by Max Maclay

Jackets on,
Flakes swirl
In large catchable numbers.
They do not stick

Jackets off,
Sun shines
Icicles drip
Rivers are born.

Clouds drift in and out,
April in the high country.

Sledding with Clara in the sun and snowflakes

Monday, March 31, 2014

Earworms of the Musical and Overactive Brain Varieties

Link up or join me at twowritingteachers.com
for the Tuesday Slice of LIfe
Earworm: A song that sticks in your mind, and will not leave no matter how much you try. - From urbandictionary.com

There are two serious earworms in my head right now. The first is the entire soundtrack to the musical Frog and Toad which we bought from iTunes after seeing the production at my school. The songs are wonderful and my daughter loves them, so we've heard them A LOT! It seems the only way the song about eating cookies moves on is when it is replaced by the one about being almost Christmas. Having just typed those two phrases, they are competing for my brain so I've had to fire up some music on my computer for brain redirection.

The second earworm is an issue I'm having with some people in my life. The details are unimportant for this post, but it's been very frustrating, and actually makes my heart beat hard enough it seems to pound in my ears whenever I think of it. While it does not totally encompass my mind, it seems to pop up several times an hour and I'm pretty tired of it.  All I can think about is an upcoming meeting, going through various scenarios and what my actions could or should be. I hope that the decisions I have made, and will make, will be the right ones. This situation has really made me question myself professionally and personally about the type of person I am. 

I have some high expectations about myself, who I think I am, and how to take actions that help me be who I want to be. Like everyone, I have plenty of failures I dwell on and successes I worry I over-exaggerate to show myself in the best light possible. Self doubt is a tough emotion to deal with and it's been creeping into my mind a little deeper than I wish it would lately. 

But tonight, I was reminded of a success I have forgotten about. A classmate from college posted about me on an alumni Facebook page, on a thread related to people they had lost contact with from college. I remember her, and how we were always friends, even if we didn't hang out much. Here is what she posted.

"#ILoveYouMan Max, you are still my hero for making sure I was ok that night our freshman year. #knightinshiningarmor"

To be honest, I don't remember the specific incident she is referring to. I have a vague image in my memory of helping her with something, but my freshman year of college was actually twenty years ago and I don't know what it was. I have some ideas of what it could be and I'm sure if I asked she would tell me. But part of me wants to leave it a mystery. It doesn't really matter if I know or not. What matters is it made my day, that someone remembers a kind or even "heroic" action from twenty years ago. 

I like to think there are lots of heroic moments in my past, where because I was there, someone's world, or at least moment, was better. It gives me the strength to move forward and trust in myself. If I took the right actions, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, that still matter to someone twenty years later, I can trust myself to do what is right in this situation. That is the slice of my life I needed today.

This is not me :)
By the way, if you have an earworm (the musical variety) stuck in your head, the website unhearit.com might be able to help. The below is cut-and-pasted from the website:

We created this site for those of you that have a song stuck in your head and you can't get it out no matter what you do. Using the latest in reverse-auditory-melodic-unstickification technology, we've been able to allow our users to “unhear” songs by hearing equally catchy songs. So really all we're doing is making you forget your old song by replacing it with another one... sorry.

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cayusa/3393491581/">Cayusa</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

Sunday, March 30, 2014

SOLSC 31 of 31 - The End or just the Beginning?

Join me this month as I write a slice of my life each day this March and join many others sharing slices at twowritingteachers.com.  My 6-8th grade students are also be slicing this month and you can find links to their daily blogs HERE.

Go to Yesterday's Slice
Copy the top
"New Post"

The keys tap quietly as I type, with mostly five of six fingers. The Space Bar makes slightly louder noises as I push it down with more confidence because it's bigger and easier to find. The delete key is a rapid staccato as I erase whole words, or even lines to edit, spellcheck or change. A pause in the sounds as the cursor moves via arrow keys or mouse to reach above. Tapity-tap to change something, and then another pause, as the cursor returns back to where it was before. 

For the past month, a slice of each day has been to sit down and write to...you.  I've written to you while I have been happy, tired, mad, thoughtful, nostalgic, or whatever my "normal" state of mind is. Slices have been composed at school, Starbucks, the bathroom floor during my daughter's bath (like this one), the couch (especially when I was not sleeping), and most often at the dining room table.

Some days the words flowed easily from my fingers to the keys. Other days it's been a struggle, inspiration absent, and I cringed when I hit the orange "Publish" button, knowing that others would read it. To protect my ego in those moments, I've continually repeated to myself that this blog is like a writer's notebook. I need to write a lot to find a few gems and it's likely that 90% of what I write is the equivalent of manure; a natural and necessary excrement of living and growth, but not worth spending much thought about. 

Just as a garden does well with fertilizer, my writing confidence has grown with each post, even the manure ones. I have several posts I'm very proud of and even excited to expand. While I usually pride myself in sensory description and scene setting, I have been willing to share poetry, memoirs, and I am realizing that I others find my writing humorous when I mean them to. 

I can not say enough about how much each comment from you has meant to me. I wish I had commented more for other people, although I did have some good marathon days of catching up. So thanks if you gave me feedback or support, online or in person.

I was lucky to have so many people near me slicing away each day. Linda, Kam, Suparna, Katie, and my wife Susan were there for support and inspiration. But my other secret helpers were a sticker chart and a class of twenty-two students slicing along with me. Doing the Classroom SOLSC has been amazing for me as a teacher and truly inspirational as a writer. Daily, I have been astounded by my students' writing. They are so brave, real, and their voices shine out from their blogs! I not only have a better idea of how to help them as students and writers, but I know them better as people. And I have to say, having my name on the bottom of the sticker chart in the classroom was pretty helpful as well. I'm okay if they are better writers than I am, as some of them are, but I don't want to be out-hustled.

As I reflect on what it means to me, to write each day, I am excited by the possibilities. I want to write, and while I don't quite know how to share it beyond this blog, I expect that I will. Without a sticker chart, or a place to post each day, I probably will not write each day once this challenge is over. But just as I know I can climb a mountain, or survive a long school year, because I've done it before, I know I can do this too. My mental stamina for writing is stronger than it has ever been and since I believe in it, it exists, and this is only the beginning for me as a writer.

Notebook photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/theryn/12468825413/">Theryn Fleming</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>

Pen photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kfergos/107857920/">kfergos</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>